A City Square with buses and people talking

Get lost in the city’s historic architecture. (Photo: Getty Images)

Weekend Getaways

Visit London, England’s Buzz-Worthy Attractions and Hidden Gems Over a Three-Day Weekend

Is London the world’s greatest city? There’s plenty of evidence pointing to yes.

After all, this is a place where tradition meets innovation, where you might find a centuries-old shop next to a shiny new clothing boutique, where you can start the day with a full English breakfast cooked by a fourth-generation pub owner, then follow it up with lunch at a spot that offers modern riffs on Filipino cuisine.

This city oozes gravitas and history, but reinvention and evolution are just as much a part of the London narrative.

After a few days of experiencing the wealth of diversity, the riches of diversions and the strata of history that is London, you’ll become a believer, too: This is the capital of cool. If you have three days in the city, pack some comfortable walking shoes, get a good night’s sleep and then: ready, set, go!

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Friday: Enjoy a Royally Fun Day

the mall in Westminster
Take a stroll down the Mall in Westminster. (Photo: Getty Images)

Start with breakfast at the Wolseley in Mayfair, where you can dig in to British breakfast staples like fried duck eggs and deviled lamb kidneys. After you’re full, head to nearby Buckingham Palace. Unless you’ve booked a guided tour or you’re an actual royal (or on the royal payroll), you can’t go inside.

But it’s fun enough to stand outside and gape at the stoic King’s Guard — and maybe even stick around to watch the traditional changing of the guard.

After you’ve had your royal fix, walk along the southern edge of Hyde Park until you reach Harrods, the world’s grandest department store. Stroll around the seven floors of luxury goods, taking in the tearoom and ice cream parlor.

There are a dozen restaurants in this London landmark, so this is a very good place for lunch. Try the signature “braffle” (part waffle, part brioche, piled with savory or sweet toppings) in Harrods Café, located on the third floor.

Keep on walking along the southern edge of Hyde Park (or follow a path through the park for a more bucolic stroll) until you reach the stately neighborhood of Kensington.

The district is both sedate and exciting: The streets are a tranquil mix of tidy Victorian row houses intermingled with posh pubs and fancy boutiques. And then there are the museums, with which Kensington is chock-full.

One of the best is the Victoria & Albert Museum. The V&A, as it’s called, showcases 5,000 years of decorative arts from the world over, including artifacts from ancient China, personal items that belonged to Frida Kahlo and Alexander McQueen–designed evening dresses.

Stay in the area for dinner and get a table at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. This is the celebrity chef’s three-Michelin-starred flagship restaurant, so be sure to book in advance. Afterward, head to The Bletchley, an immersive, 1940s-spy-inspired cocktail bar, where code-cracking activities determine the cocktail you’ll be served.

Saturday: Spend the Day in Shoreditch

a couple walking down London streets
Make time for long walks down London’s winding streets. (Photo: Getty Images)

Kick off your morning with breakfast (or brunch) at Esters. Located in Stoke Newington in East London, Esters does the best breakfast fare in this corner of the city. It’s not conventional — just tasty. Order confit pork belly with a fried egg, or a platter of French toast drizzled with honey syrup and whipped ricotta.

Spend the afternoon roaming around Shoreditch. In the past decade, this East London neighborhood has been transformed into one of the hippest places to explore. It wasn’t always that way — for centuries, it was home to a rotating roster of niche industries, including artillery, weaving and tailoring.

Today, the creative class has moved in, and so have a slew of hip indie boutiques, cutting-edge eateries and casual bars. Street art now bedecks the sides of buildings.

Then there’s the funky Brick Lane, once famed for its Indian eateries, which — though you’ll still find curries aplenty here — has since evolved into a street for small, quirky shops and restaurants of all varieties. (If you find yourself on Brick Lane in the wee hours, head to Beigel Bake for a salt-beef bagel — a post-pub snack many Londoners swear by.)

Be sure to stop by Spitalfields Market, which is especially busy on Saturdays, and browse for vintage fashion and antiques at the many stalls and kiosks. Have lunch at Blacklock.

Housed in a former furniture factory, the restaurant focuses on high-quality British meats. Adventurous eaters can start with pig’s head on toast with gravy or just move right on to a steak sandwich or a thick cut of roast beef.

After lunch, stop into the Museum of London Docklands, a fascinating and underrated museum that tells the story of life along the Thames from the times when Romans were settling the area all the way up to the present. The museum is located in a 200-year-old warehouse.

For dinner, head to Brawn, which is just beyond Shoreditch. The restaurant has the feel of a neighborhood spot but the menu of a destination eatery, serving up inspired and elevated British fare such as fried quail with pickled fennel and duck with lentils. Stick around for a post-dinner drink — Brawn has a lengthy list of digestifs and dessert wines to pair with your pudding.

Sunday: Stroll Along the River

Big Ben in London
Stop for a photo of Big Ben. (Photo: Getty Images)

Stroll along the Thames, the mighty river around which London was built, to the Breakfast Club, where you can tuck in to tall stacks of pancakes, French toast or a traditional English breakfast: eggs, bacon, black pudding, beans, potatoes and roasted tomatoes, served with a side of toast.

Then it’s off to see the sights: There’s the Shard, London’s iconic 72-story skyscraper; the magnificent Victorian-era Tower Bridge; the Tate Modern, which houses the best of Britain’s art dating 1900 to the present; and Shakespeare’s Globe, a reconstruction of the Elizabethan playhouse for which the Bard wrote his plays.

While all four spots are within walking distance of one another, some have timed entry or guided tours, so book your tickets in advance and plan your route accordingly.

Make sure you pop over the river to see St. Paul’s Cathedral, the iconic English Baroque Anglican church designed by Sir Christopher Wren following the Great Fire of London in the late 17th century.

And if you want a superlative view, book a spot for yourself and your travel companions on the London Eye, the state-of-the-art Ferris wheel that has become an instant classic since it first started spinning around the turn of the 21st century.

Stop into the Library Lounge at County Hall to take part in that most legendary British tradition: afternoon tea. Or if ticketed tours have kept you farther east, near the Tate Modern and the Tower Bridge, make a beeline for the historic Borough Market, going strong since 1756, and cobble together lunch from any of the dozens of artisan food stalls.

For a quintessentially British bite, order a delicious hot sausage roll at the Ginger Pig, a butcher shop and gourmet deli at the market that specializes in sustainably raised meats.

Afterward, cross the river to the north side and take a stroll by London’s most famous clock tower, Big Ben, before making your way past the always-buzzy Piccadilly Circus and up to Oxford Street, which is lined with shops.

Later, peruse the pretty floral-print clothes and accessories at Liberty of London or pick up some loose-leaf tea at Fortnum & Mason, which has been in business since 1707. If you still feel like walking, wander through Soho, a vibrant neighborhood filled with boutiques, pubs and theaters.

Stop for happy hour at The London Edition, where a reservation at the Punch Room will give you 19th-century private club vibes and a chance to taste the signature gin-infused house punch.

For dinner, reserve a table at Nopi, a celebrated Mediterranean restaurant by celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi. After dinner, grab a nightcap at one of the many atmospheric pubs that are crammed into this buzzing part of England’s greatest city.